August 4, 2011

Last month, large freight operator FedEx incurred an unusually heavy fine from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of nearly $690,000 for mistakes in shipping hazardous materials (hazmat) from their office on Bradley International Airport, near Hartford, CT. In addition, the FAA slapped the carrier with four other violations involving hazmat that was not adequately described.

According to the FAA, mistakes at FedEx left company pilots ill-informed about hazmat they carried. Most of the hazmat was compressed gas, flammable liquids, cyanides, paint or explosives

Is there a lesson here for NBAA Members who carry hazmat? “Your pilots and anyone else involved in handling hazmat need to know and follow the rules and how to fill out the paperwork properly, every time,” said W. Ashley Smith, Jr., of Jet Logistics, Inc., in Raleigh, NC, who serves on NBAA’s Domestic Operations Committee. He added that most professional pilots have had at least some exposure to hazmat regulations by the time they are hired.

For its part, FedEx said its violations were merely simple paperwork errors involving 30 of the information blocks on hazmat forms, and that all of the shipments were flown safely. A company spokesman also said the company would be re-training employees who handle hazmat.

“It could easily have been the same employee filling out a form wrong 89 times,” said Smith. “Each form counts as a separate violation.”

Although the hazmat rules apply to businesses flying under FAR Parts 91K (fractional), 121, 135 and 145, Part 91 operators may want to consider implementing a hazmat training program. The FAA provides a training program for the business and its employees, whether or not the business plans to accept hazmat for carriage, although the “carry” and “non-carry” training programs are virtually identical.

“It makes sense,” said Smith. “Employees who will be carrying hazmat should be able to recognize and understand the hazard, and employees for ‘non-carry’ operators have to be able to recognize hazmat to know enough not to accept it.”

Most FAA fines for operator or shipper mistakes are much smaller than the FedEx assessment. A report from the 165-person FAA Office of Security and Hazardous Materials, which enforces the hazmat regulations, showed that FAR Part 121 carriers are much more likely to be found in violation for hazmat than other certificate holders. Since 2005, the office has settled hundreds of violations with FAR Part 121 air carriers, 42 violations with indirect air carriers and 17 violations with on-demand carriers, presumably Part 135 operators. Fines for the on-demand carriers during the period ranged from $1,000 to $30,000.

In the FedEx case, FAA officials cited a “history” of hazmat regulations violations over the past five years. The 15-page letter from the FAA to FedEx set the total fine at $689,800, or about $7,750 for each of the 89 mistakes the FAA found in its September 2009 inspection. It could have been much worse, since the maximum civil penalty for violating hazmat regulations is $30,000 per violation.

“The bottom line is that operators need to be informed if they are going to carry hazmat,” said Scott O’Brien, Project Manager in NBAA’s Operations Service Group. “The burden is on the director of operations/manager to make sure that pilots are aware of any hazmat that is being carried.”

For more information on handling of hazardous materials, including an FAA list of common restricted items, review NBAA’s hazmat page.